New Hawaii group designing emergency ventilators to ease shortage

Updated: Apr. 4, 2020 at 7:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group based in Hawaii is developing an emergency respiratory ventilator that can be produced in built quickly -- and hopefully in time for an expected surge on coronavirus cases.

The group’s name is Kahanu, the Hawaiian word for “the breath.” Which is exactly what group members want to give to possible COVID-19 patients.

“You need a machine very quickly to help them out with breathing, and that’s where these devices come into play,” said Dr. Kai Matthes, a Maui pediatric anesthesiologist who spearheaded the project.

Kahanu has already developed a simple, low-cost ventilator that can be built quickly in Hawaii. it will be operated by a simple motor, but can be operated manually if, for some reason, the motor should fail.

“Time is of the essence here, because we have about two to three weeks before we see a surge of patients and then we’re going to need a lot of ventilators soon,” said Matthes.

The group is using open sourcing to speed up the development process.

“Everybody’s working hard to compress the timeline of a whole year into like two to four weeks,” he said. “And that’s required people to work day and night to move the project forward.”

Other entrepreneurs and companies have been making similar efforts to make up a ventilator shortfall around the country. Matthes believes Hawaii will need another 100 to 200 ventilators for a predicted surge.

The machines being developed by Kahanu won’t replace more sophisticated devices, but it will help patients breathe in an emergency.

Matthes’ goal is to build 400 of the machines in four weeks.

“Even if we don’t need all the ventilators here in Hawaii, we can send it to other areas of the country where there’s a dire need for ventilators,” said Matthes.

Matthes also said that because the group is openly sharing information on the project, even other countries can pick up the design and produce the parts themselves.

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